August 29, 2018 Abdul Haqq

In the name of the Father?  Endemic sexual abuse under the guise of religion

The sex abuse scandals that continue to plague the Catholic Church stretch so far back in recent history to suggest that the papacy, as an institution, is rotten to its core. With allegations that the Vatican was aware of accusations of abuse as early as 2000[1]- not forgetting the crescendo of media reports since the 1980s – it is difficult to avoid such a damning indictment.[2] In fact, the revelation that Pope Francis was also aware of specific cases following his election in 2013 only exacerbates an already dire affair:

The letter…also accuses Pope Francis of being informed of McCarrick’s penchant for young seminarians in 2013 but of having rehabilitated him – a claim of cover-up against the pope himself.’ [3]

It comes as no surprise that his apology failed to resonate with the Irish Catholic community during the recent visit. Arguably, it only added insult to injury:

‘…the Irish horrors are beyond apology…For thousands revealed to have been abused by Catholic priests around the world, whose crimes were covered up by bishops  and the Vatican, no mere apology will do.’[4]

The focus of this article is not specific to the Catholic Church; however, in view of the scale of abuse, discussion will ensue around it. Discussion will also concentrate on the betrayal of some religious institutions to provide pastoral care to their most vulnerable members.  The absence of other faith groups in no way exonerates them from the ambit of this discussion but for brevity, attention will be given to the more predominant ones.

The premise of pastoral care has been defined as being:

‘…an ancient model of emotional and spiritual support that can be found in all cultures and traditions. It has been described in our modern context as individual and corporate patience in which trained pastoral carers support people in their pain, loss and anxiety, and their triumphs, joys and victories.’[5]

How have we arrived at this moment in the 21st century where the discovery of systemic abuse of more than 1,000 children for 70 years by 300 priests is only being brought to our attention now? How has the Church of England escaped a thorough investigation or public inquiry after downplaying nearly 40,000 accusations of abuse while accepting only 13 as warranting serious attention?[6] And, what about previous allegations regarding some UK madrassah’s facing more than 400 allegations of abuse – albeit physical – between 2008 and 2011?[7] While some will dismiss the latter as Islamophobic propaganda that is different to the above-mentioned examples, one only has to look at relatively recent cases of sexual abuse perpetrated by a minority of religious leaders among Muslim communities, one such example being cited below:

‘An imam who sexually touched four young girls during Quran lessons at a mosque has been jailed for 13 years.’[8]

Religious (mis)guidance?

Caution must be exercised before attributing blame to tenets that amount to the bedrock of mainstream religions today. Unfortunately, many a critic is quick to accuse religion – and not the adherents or their misinterpretation of these principles – for what often amounts to abuse and malpractice.  For example, Christian doctrine – like other Abrahamic religions – provides an unequivocal message regarding conduct with children:

People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them…He said “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these”…And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them…’ [9]

Contrast this with the numerous reports of abuse at the hands of priests and it is easy to discern their flagrant violation of religious, moral and ethical codes as they relate to the young. Whereas Jesus blessed children with his hands, these priests chose to abuse them with theirs; whereas Jesus displayed compassion and mercy, these priests showed depravity.

A cautionary tale

As young children approaching teenage-hood, my friends and I were encouraged by our parents to join the local C of E choir in an attempt to divert our attention from the nihilistic street culture we were immersed in. A small group of us joined and initially enjoyed the benefits of a regular stipend and being lauded for singing ‘angelically.’ We also enjoyed robust and occasionally aggressive versions of ‘Bundle Squares’ and ‘British Bulldog’ during breaks in the church backyard. However, after a short period we began to notice a change in behaviour of another young choir member. He was not a part of my group of friends nor did he live in our local area – he used to travel to and from church with the choirmaster… As young boys we were not in a position to determine the reason for his increased withdrawal and, on occasions, erratic behaviour. After eventually leaving the choir to embark on other more exciting pursuits, we learned the choirmaster and another adult member had been expelled from the church – the reason? They had been arrested and convicted for pursuing young boys in the west end and grooming them for sexual abuse over a sustained period. Suffice it to say, lengthy prison sentences followed. Thankfully, none of my friends nor I faced such horrific experiences; however, others were not so fortunate.

Some victims, unable to deal with the aftermath of their ordeals are known to commit suicide[10] while institutions like the Vatican protects its clergy by ignoring the latters’ heinous crimes or relocating them to other parishes.

‘Father forgive me for I have sinned…’

These words, uttered to Catholic priests in confessional boxes each week by penitent worshippers, belie the scale of injustice meted out to thousands of abuse victims. Polly Toynbee’s recent contribution in the Guardian – also referenced in this article – commences with an emphatic title regarding the existing culture of respect for religion having gone too far.[11] In a climate where religion should be playing an important role to foster social and moral cohesion it is failing. Perhaps it is now religion that needs to respect society, not the other way round.

If we are unable to trust religious leaders and institutions, there are legitimate concerns for the subsequent moral decay among communities and wider society on the whole. Zero tolerance for sexual abuse is required at every societal level, beginning with religious establishments. Failing this, the clergy should forget about eulogising the holy ghost and instead, focus on removing the haunting effects of abuse that encompass generations of victims, past and present. It is these ghosts they need to exorcise.




[1]BBC News: ‘Child sexual abuse and the Catholic Church: What you need to know,’ 20thAugust 2018:


[3]Winfield, N: ‘Pope Francis, Senior Church Officials Knew About Sex Abuse Scandal, Former Vatican Ambassador Claims,’ Time, 26thAugust 2018:

[4]Toynbee, P: ‘The culture of respect for religion has gone too far,’ The Guardian, 28thAugust 2018:

[5]Definition of Pastoral Care:

[6]Toynbee, P: ‘The culture of respect for religion has gone too far,’ The Guardian, 28thAugust 2018:

[7]Adams, F: ‘Child abuse claims at UK madrassas ‘tip of iceberg,’ BBC News, 18thOctober 2011:

[8]Press Association: ‘Cardiff imam jailed for 13 years for abusing girls at Quran lessons,’ The Guardian, 7thJuly 2017:

[9]The Bible, Mark, Chapter 10, verses 13-16

[10]MacDonald, S: ‘Irish priest: Sex abuse victims lost to suicide ‘could have been saved,’’ 8thSeptember, 2016:

[11]Toynbee, P: ‘The culture of respect for religion has gone too far,’ The Guardian, 28thAugust 2018:

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